Initiative allowing ability to opt out of WA Cares program certified, ballot next?

Jan 25, 2024, 8:16 PM | Updated: Jan 26, 2024, 2:36 am

Image: Doctors work in a hospital....

Doctors work in a hospital. (Photo: Getty Images)

(Photo: Getty Images)

An initiative that would allow people to opt out of the new tax for the state-run long-term-care program could be headed to the November ballot after it was certified Thursday.

Washington Secretary of State Steve Hobbs’ office confirmed in a press statement Thursday “it delivered official notification to the (legislature) that signature verification has been completed and certified for Initiative 2124 (I-2124).

Looking more at the WA Cares fund

Last July, Washington became the first state to deduct money from workers’ paychecks to finance long-term care benefits for residents who can’t live independently due to illness, injury or aging-related conditions such as dementia.

The push to find a long-term care solution comes as Washington and other states prepare to face a doubling of the 85-and-older population over the next 15 years — a crisis that will challenge the ability of states to meet long-term care needs already promised through Medicaid.

Washington’s payroll deduction approach to long-term care funding is getting the attention of policymakers around the country, including California and New York, which are developing programs similar to WA Cares.

An estimated 7 million to 8 million Americans have private long-term care insurance, which can be costly and generally requires applicants to pass a health screening. Many assume Medicare covers long-term care, but that’s not the case except for limited care for skilled nursing or rehabilitation. Medicaid requires applicants to be low-income and spend down all life savings to $2,000 or less to qualify.

Washington workers started paying into the WA Cares Fund at the start of July. At that point, 0.58% of total pay per paycheck gets deducted. That means an employee making $50,000 will pay $290 per year.

I-2111: Initiative that would outlaw state income taxes certified

As Axios noted in its coverage last year, critics of the program, including Republican Reps. Joe Schmick and Peter Abbarno, say the benefit isn’t big enough to warrant the money being taken out of people’s paychecks each month.

According to KIRO 7, Abbarno previously noted that people who pay into it and move out of the state, they lose out.

“It’s really an unfair program,” Abbarno said. “It’s not portable, you retire out of state you don’t get to take it with you. If you die it doesn’t become an asset that you can pass onto a spouse or a family member.”

Destry Witt, developer of Emerald City Enhanced Services in Lakewood spent decades working in finance and senior housing. While he believes the program will be better in the future, Witt noted a typical memory care stay lasts between six and eight months.

“Right now, $36,000 is not going to go very far in a memory care facility,” Witt said to KIRO 7. “You’d be lucky if you get three or four months.”

In a statement sent to KIRO Newsradio Thursday, We Care for WA Cares, “a coalition of health, disease, consumer and worker organizations,” expressed disappointment in the advancement of I-2124.

“(Seventy percent) of us will wind up needing long-term care — like help with meals, chores, and daily tasks – at some point in our lives as a result of an injury, illness, disease or the normal challenges that can come with age,” a portion of the statement reads. “If this initiative passes, hard working Washingtonians will no longer have access to an affordable guaranteed benefit to help pay for home care, home modifications, and other long-term care support when they need it.”

I-2124 is another initiative that was backed by “Let’s Go Washington,” a conservative political action committee (PAC).

Next up for I-2124: Legislators will consider it

I-2124 will now go to the Washington State Legislature for consideration. It has the option to pass it or propose its own version. If lawmakers don’t take action, it will appear on the general election ballot in November.

Lawmakers can choose to pass the initiative as written, with no changes. If they do, it will become law more quickly than if it went to the November ballot. If lawmakers decline to pass it or take no action on it, then the initiative will almost certainly be put before voters in November.

The legislature also has the option to create their own alternative measure which would then appear on the ballot alongside I-2124.

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The Let’s Go Washington initiatives

In addition to I-2124, the secretary of state’s office has certified the other five initiatives Let’s Go Washington backed: I-2111 (“No state income tax”), I-2109 (“Repeal the capital gains tax”), I-2081 (“Parents have a right to know”), I-2113 (“Reasonable police pursuit”) and I-2117 (“Stop the hidden gas tax”).

I-2109: Initiative to repeal capital gains tax certified

After I-2113 got certified, Democratic House Speaker Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, said she is disappointed the six initiatives were being pushed through by people like Brian Heywood, who founded Let’s Go Washington and is a hedge fund manager and a major Republican donor. Jinkins called him “an ultra-wealthy multimillionaire, buying his way onto the ballot and putting initiatives on the ballot that are going to benefit his ultra-wealthy status.”

But her colleagues, including House Minority Leader Rep. Drew Stokesbary, R-Auburn, pointed out the initiatives all appear to have received more than 400,000 voter signatures, though some are still awaiting official certification.

“A very small number of (these voters) have any meaningful financial gain, they just want to do what they think is best for the people of Washington,” Stokesbary said previously. “They want more choices and feel like they’re dissatisfied with some of the policies that have come out of Olympia.”

Contributing: Kate Stone, KIRO Newsradio; The Associated Press 

Steve Coogan is the lead editor of My Northwest. You can read more of his stories here. Follow Steve on X, formerly known as Twitter, here and email him here.

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Initiative allowing ability to opt out of WA Cares program certified, ballot next?